Aboru, Aboye, Aboshishe
It's the time of year when we see much of the Lucumi world alight with the question, "Do you know what the Letra of the year is?" and "is that the one from Cuba? or Puerto Rico? and which part of Cuba?". This ultimately leads people to ask me time and again, two very important questions:
Why is the letra del Año de Ifa Lucumi at a different time then the traditional Yoruba Odun Ifa?
Which "letra" is the one I should follow?
To answer the first question, fundamentally, the letra del Año de Ifa Lucumi and the traditional Yoruba Odun Ifa are essentially the same ceremonies, though there are some differences which have no significant bearing on the questions posed. They are meant to offer sacrifice to Ifa, and to seek Ifa's guidance over the coming new year. But why then are they at different times?
To start with, let's talk about Odun Ifa in traditional Yoruba Ifa. In my Ile, we do the Odun Ifa usually in August, though the day isn't exact, and can vary from year to year. Typically, although not exclusively, Odun Ifa coincides with the new yam festival (first harvest of the yam, an important staple in the Yoruba diet) and due to the nature of agriculture, is not on a fixed day. As with many cultures, the first yam is given to the Gods/Orisas as an offering, asking that the yield be plenty and that the coming year offer the community health, wealth, ample food, and other blessings. In this light, as followers of Ifa, we ask the same. Additionally, since there are poisonous tubers, some contend that the offerings are made to ensure that Ifa protect people from the consumption of such tubers.
The Odu Ogbe Ate (Ogbe Irete) tells us:
Correctness is the essence of true ritual
Those who, accepting this teaching
Offer libation first to Mother Earth
And then to lips
Sail though life over smooth calm waters
Was divined for Kufodo, he who serves liquor in pitchers
Ka ta a'le
Ka ta e enu
Otara-tara ni ishon odo
Dia fun Kufodo
Omo Oloti ape
From this Ifa tells us to always make offerings to mother earth, because she is the one who feeds us (entering through our lips). This is why the new Yam festival is so important, and why Ifa's guidance is always sought in the new year.
As to the Lucumi doing their Odun Ifa on the new year, no one will know for sure, but I suspect (since slavery was an enourmous factor), it was likely that it was impossible for the slaves to get away for even a moment during "harvest" time, as this is when they were probably worked the hardest. Further, as the slave owners celebrated the new year, and there was likely not much work done, it was probably a convenient time, and further, represented the "new year" of the culture which was forced upon them. I'm sure there are many theories, this being only one, but many of the sentiments are the same, celebration of a new year to come, and hopes of peace, health, prosperity etc.
With regards to the second question, "Who's 'letra' should I follow?" the spread out nature of worshippers in today's world complicates things a bit. Odun Ifa are traditionally done for the community, but not what we think of as "community", which has extended itself across the globe based on technological advances. It is the physical community in which one lives, works, grows old, etc. and this is an important distinction.
In an older post I spoke about "distance divination" and the importance of physical presence in Ifa divination, I belive this to hold true in the Odun Ifa. The prognostications of Ifa are meant for the people who are a part of the community that is performing the rite. This is a complication highlighted by globalization and the spreading of Ifa across the globe. But it's important to note that even in Nigeria, there is no "ONE" magic Odun Ifa (letra) for all of Nigeria. Odun Ifa is performed across Nigeria, and even at different times for different communities.
I believe that the desire to feel community and connection has caused many people to look to Cuba or Puerto Rico to provide their guidance, but I don't think that Ifa intended it that way, and Odu don't necessarily cross oceans or land masses. There are exceptions of course. For instance, I am aware of my Oluwo's Odun Ifa, and listen to the advice that comes from it, but that is because my Ifa was born from his, and I and my house are spiritually connected. That said, if some day my community becomes large enough, I will begin to perform my own Odun Ifa, and as soon as I do, the Odu/advice from my Odun Ifa will be the only one that is of consequence to me and my community.
So certainly if your initiations happened directly in a particular community, it makes spiritual sense to draw import from the advice of their Odun Ifa, even if you have large physical distances. However, if you don't, that advice is not meant for you. Just as you wouldn't take the advice given to someone else during their private d'afa as meant for you (unless you came up specifically by name in that person's reading).
I believe it is important that people create better communities, and begin the process of performing their own Odun Ifa (with the proper training in whichever tradition they follow), so that Ifa can accurately and appropriately guide his followers each new year.
In Osa Ogunda Ifa says:
The anthill is the place of deliberations of the eerun ants.
Asuwa, a grouping together in harmony, is the place of deliberations of human beings.
It was through the principle of grouping together, that the earth was created.
It was through the principle of grouping together, that heaven was created.
And it was in the form of collectivities that beings descended on earth.
All inclusive was the grouping together when beings were first created.
All embracing was the grouping together when beings were completed.
Formed into collectivities were beings, when they rained down on earth.
All goodness became a grouping together in harmony.
The grouping together of the strands of hair covered the head.
The grouping together of hairs on the chin became an object of attention.
The grouping together of trees became a forest.
The grouping together of the eruwa grasses became a savannah.
The grouping together of beehives hold up the roof of the house.
And the grouping together of the Ita ants led to their covering the earth.
Alasuwada, Great Being who creates all beings in groups, we ask you humbly,
That you grant us things gathered in groups
So that they bring together all things good for us.
Bees for swarms
Eeran plants grow together on the farm.
Brooms are formed from bundles of twigs.
Eeran grass grows in bunches on the plains.
And the elegiri birds form flocks
It is as a grouping together that we encounter the grassland
It is as swarms that the locusts consume the farm
It is in several colonies that we find termites in their mounds
It is in groves that we encounter the ekunkun trees on the water's edge
It is in clusters we find oore grass at the riverside
It is in schools that we find egbele fish in the ocean
It is in groups we encounter the dragon fly
And the adosusu leaf is never found alone
Dews pouring lightly, pouring lightly
Were used to create the world
And likewise was done to create the earth.
So that goodness of togetherness could come forth at once.
Indeed all goodness took the form of a gathering together in harmony.
Now, if one Ori encounters good,
It will spread out and touch two hundred
If my Ori is good
It will spread out and touch you
And if your Ori is good,
It will spread out and touch me
For if just one Ori experiences good
It will spread out and touch two hundred.
Asuwa ni toyin
Asuwa leeran nhu ninu oko
Asuwa ni to susu owo
Asuwa leeran nhu ninu aare
Asuwa ni ti elegiri
Asuwa laa bodan
Asuwa lesu nfiijoko
Asuwa opo suu laa ba ikan inu ogan
Asuwa laa ba ekunkun let omi
Asuwa oore lodo
Asuwa laa ba lanilani
Asuwa laa beja egbele lokun
Ewe adosusu kii duro loun nikan
Iri tu wili, tu wili
Lfi dale aye
la bu da ile
kire susu ko wa su piripiri
ire gbogbo d'asuma
Nje, bori kan ba sunwon
A ran igba
Ori mi to suwon
lo ran yin
Ori yin to sunwon
Lo ran mi
Bori kan ba sunwon
A ran igba
Certainly Ifa believes that all beings need to be in groups to survive, that was how they were created, a community. Which means, we are not only responsible to ourselves, but to the group that allows us to survive in the world. So we hold together our community and offer sacrifice during Odun ifa...
Aboru, aboye, aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez